Young women reading their writing at a conference

by Mike Templeton

Young people have their own ways of pulling just about anything into the art that best expresses their time and place. For me, punk rock really captured the spirit of youth. Life felt potentially explosive when I was in my late teens and early twenties and punk seemed the most authentic outlet for the spirit of those times. 

Even punk had its way of drawing on what was closest to the people who made it, and our Appalachian roots found its way into the wild and weird world of punk. What came to be known as “cow punk” came out of Nashville in the 1980s. You could hear the voice of Hank Williams coming through the noisy loud guitars. No matter how much we thought we were doing things that were entirely new, our Appalachian roots could not be denied or forgotten. 

As I talked about this with core UACC member Pauletta Hansel, she reminded me that the punk rock link to Appalachian roots may not be quite as relevant to today’s youth as was to me. That is why UACC in partnership with the University of Cincinnati English and other departments, WordPlay Cincinnati and Thomas More University Creative Writing Vision program are sponsoring the Cincinnati Area Young People’s Writing Contest. It is essential that we invite young people to join the process of Writing Our Roots because these are the voices that will continue the powerful and rich tradition that is the urban Appalachian experience.

I have witnessed the urgency with which young people approach poetry at open readings around the Cincinnati area. I have also read the work of young writers who are confronting their experiences of the 21st Century in ways that are uniquely their own. The urban Appalachian experience is made new by allowing each generation to lend its voice to making it new. If the wild and weird punks of the 1980s could marry that noise with the songs of Appalachia, I am certain that today’s writers are doing even more exciting things in their own ways. 

If we consider the informal ways that Appalachian oral tradition has given rise to the “formal” figure of the storyteller, we should be able to get a sense of the way style and content have worked together. Young writers are invited to take this into consideration as they work toward writing their entries. Young writers should not feel limited by the styles and forms that have gone before them. The purpose of the workshops and the contest is to encourage young writers to bring new forms and styles to the urban Appalachian experience. 

Our message to young writers: No matter how you define your roots—geographic, ethnic, racial, religious, etc.—we invite you  to express these ideas in writing. The Writing Our Roots contest is wide open to any form. Poetry, prose, memoir, or maybe a hybrid written form are all welcome. 

In case you want more incentive to enter, the Cincinnati Area Young People’s Writing Contest also includes cash prizes. There will be cash awards of up to $150 with awards going out in three age categories: 13-15, 16-19, and 20-23.

Submissions are due October 11, and a public reading by the winners will be held on November 11 at UC’s Taft Research Center, Edwards One. For detailed information on the contest and submissions visit:


Mike Templeton is a writer, independent scholar, barista, cook, guitar player, and accidental jack-of-all-trades. He lives in downtown Cincinnati with his wife who is a talented photographer. They spend their free time walking around the city snapping photos. She looks up at that the grandeur of the city, while Mike always seems to be staring at the ground.

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